The Basics

Introduction – The Basics

A Maintenance and Operations overview and primer.


  1. THE CHASSIS OR FRAME: The supporting frame of a structure (as an automobile or television); also: the frame and working parts (as of an automobile or electronic device) exclusive of the body or housing. The Chassis, it all starts with the Ford Chassis, all components for you car are attached to the chassis or the frame of the car.
  2. THE MOTOR, ENGINE OR POWER PLANT: Your Model A engine is a four-cylinder in line engine known as an “L Block”. It uses 4 spark plugs that explode in a combustion chamber to power the engine. The engine is oiled by a circulating splash system, which while delivering oil to the valve chamber allows the oil by gravity to flow to each of the main bearings of the engine. The lower part of the engine or the crankcase has troughs for the oil that allow the oil to “splash” from oil dippers to the other parts of the engine that need lubricating…
  3. THE TRANSMISSION OR DRIVE TRAIN: This is what makes the car go forward and back. The Ford Model A use a sliding pinion type of gear or sometimes just called a sliding gear transmission, it has 3 forward gears and 1 reverse. Speed is obtained through the transmission by changing gears by depressing the clutch pedal and shifting into the next higher gear. The power of the engine rotates sending power to the rear axel by means of an enclosed propeller shaft with a ball joint. In the rear axel are radius rods that work a gears and help turn the wheels that move the car.
  4. BRAKES: There are two separate brake systems on the Model A, the four wheel service brakes and the emergency brake. The wheel is attached to the Brake Drum, which inside are what is called brake shoes. When you press the brake pedal the brake shoes expands outward, this in turn presses the fabric on the brake shoes against the drum and there by slows and stops the car. The brakes are controlled by rods that connect the front and rear wheels, giving you the basic braking system. The second brake system is the emergency brake controlled by a handle in the car, when this handle is pulled it expands a separate set of brake bands and therefore hold the rear wheels from moving.
  5. COOLING SYSTEM: Your radiator. The Model A uses a centrifugal water pump mounted in the cylinder head of the engine and works with the engine fan. Your Model a engine will work with regular water to cool the engine, anti freeze as in regular cars is NOT recommended as your radiator in your model a is NOT a pressurized system, the radiator works by circulating cool water into the engine, as the water becomes heated it is forced out through the upper radiator hose into the radiator and as it cools drops to the bottom and is flows into the engine again. The process works entirely automatically.
  6. CARBURETOR: The carburetor is the process where gasoline and air mix to form a vapor that is ignited into the engine to create the combustion to cause power. It is important to be sure the mix of air and gasoline is right or to make sure it is not too rich or too weak which is what regulates the explosion and in turn the power that is applied to the piston, which in turn gives you power. Your fuel mix is controlled by the choke rod inside your car in front of the passenger seat. The choke rod turned clockwise or counter clockwise to regulate the mixture.
  7. MODEL A FUEL SYSTEM: Your fuel tank is located above your feet in the car forming the upper portion of the cowl, or where you dash is. Under the fuel tank in most Model A’s except for May 1931 and later there is a fuel shut-off. The Fuel system is a gravity fed system to the carburetor. When the valve is turned horizontal it is shut off and fuel will not flow to the Carb. After May 1931 Ford moved the fuel shut off inside the engine compartment on the firewall and indented it. This was done for safety measures. Depending on what model you have your tank will hold 10-11 gallons of gasoline. You may use regular un-leaded gasoline in your car today.
  8. IGNITION AND ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: The Ford Model A is powered by a 6-volt positive ground system. The positive lead is connected to the frame of the car and the negative lead is connected to the starter. Your 6 volt battery sends current to the starter when the pedal inside your car is pressed. With the ignition key turned on, the coil is energized which helps to send the current to the distributor which help spark the engine via the spark plugs and when timed correctly starts the engine. Once your engine is turning, the generator located on the drivers side front of the engine, it is turned by the fan belt, which is also attached to the crankshaft pulley on the front of the engine. The generator helps to generate electricity to power your lights, horn and other accessories. The Ammeter monitors your generator and shows charge and discharge of the battery. It is on the instrument panel of your cars interior.
  9. DISTRIBUTOR: Located on the top right hand side of the engine, it consists of a cam, rotor, contact points and electrodes. The ignitions coil sends a low tension current of sufficient voltage to the distributor to jump between the points if the spark plugs. The distributor breaker points interrupt the flow of current while the rotor inside spins and sends the high tension current to each spark plug in the proper firing order.
  10. SPRINGS AND SHOCKS: The springs of the Model A are know as leave springs, they are transverse semi-elliptic in shape. Each spring is built up of different thin leaves to give the proper amount of flexibility for the particular body style. They are made of fine steel that has a spring action to it. The hydraulic shocks control the movement up or down and on the Model A are adjustable as well as making the car safer. The shock absorber connects to a shock absorber link tube, then to the front spring, which is lubricated through a fitting by you during your 500-mile checkups.
  11. STEERING: The Model A steering is known as worm and sector type, roller bearing known as thrust bearings work in conjunction with the worm gears. This is all enclosed in the steering gear assembly with is located in the steering column. In addition to this down the steering columns are also wires for your lights, and horn as well as your spark and throttle levers. At the base of the steering column is the switch assembly. This is where the wires for your horn, lights, and cowl lights are connected and branch out. They are all controlled from your steering wheel.

Starting the New Ford Model A

I have my first model a, now what? How do I get it going and work on it?

I am sure you want to get in and drive, first let’s learn how the to start this car. There are many, many opinions on how to start a model a, yes it is true that you have to learn “your” car and how it works but let’s talk about the simple common way.

The following is a direct quote from the Model A instruction manual that was provided with every new model a. Please note: your car may be totally different when starting and running, this is the basic method that ford outlined in the manual. It is interesting that it mentions nothing about turning on the gas at the valve under the dash. Obviously, this has to be one of the first steps. By the way on the original valves, the handle in the vertical position is ‘on’. Check the oil and water (gas too) prior to starting. In my opinion, when starting a cold engine, don’t choke the engine for more than a couple revolutions. If held open as described below, you run the risk of flooding the engine. Also, the ignition switch described below is the original style ‘pop-out’ switch. When opening the carburetor-adjusting valve, lightly seat or close the valve by turning clockwise until it stops, then open one full turn.

This applies to a model a that has been run recently. If the engine has not run in a long time, don’t start it until you are sure it is ready to start and has been checked.

Before starting the engine

Be sure the gearshift lever is in neutral position, ie: the position in, which it can be moved freely from side to side. Advance the throttle lever located under the steering wheel (right hand side) about three notches, or until the accelerator pedal moves slightly downward. Pulling down the throttle lever or pressing on the accelerator pedal, controls the quantity of gas entering the cylinders, and regulates the speed of the engine. Place the spark lever (left hand) at the top of the quadrant (the notched quarter-circle on which the lever is operated). This is the retard position. The spark lever regulates the timing of the spark, which explodes the gas in the cylinders. Always retard the spark lever when starting your car. Starting the engine with the spark advanced may cause the engine to kick back, and damage the starter parts. After the engine is started, advance the spark lever about half way down the quadrant.

Theft proof lock

The ford type electro-lock used in the ignition switch is a combination switch and theft proof lock affording full protection for the car and meeting the exacting requirements of the underwriters as regards theft insurance. To unlock the electro-lock, simply insert the switch key into the ignition switch and turn the key to the right. This releases the cylinder of the lock, which snaps forward and closes the ignition circuit. When the cylinder is released the engine can be started in the usual manner, and the switch key withdrawn from the lock. To shut off the engine, push in on the cylinder of the lock until it snaps back in the lock position. Be sure that it stays in. This shuts off the ignition and locks the car.

Starting the engine

  1. Release the lock cylinder by turning the switch key to the right as described on page 6.
  2. See that the spark lever is retarded; the throttle lever advanced three or four notches on the quadrant and the gear shift lever in neutral position.
  3. If the engine is cold, turn the carburetor-adjusting rod one full turn to the left to give it a richer mixture for starting. This rod serves both as a choke for starting and as an enriching adjustment. Next pull back the rod, at the same time pressing down on the starter button with your foot. The instant the engine starts, withdraw your foot from the starter button and release the choke rod, next advance the spark lever about half way down the quadrant. When the engine warms up, turn the adjusting rod back to the right. Never drive continuously with adjusting rod more than 1/4 turn open. (see adjustment of carburetor, page 24.)

When starting a warm engine, do not pull back the choke unless the engine fails to start on the normal mixture as there is a possibility of flooding the engine with an over rich mixture of gas. If you should by accident flood the engine, open the throttle and with the choke rod in normal position, turn the engine over a few times to exhaust the rich gas.

We suggest you now read through our Model A Primer.